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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  January 31, 2018 12:30am-1:01am PST

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- [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by claire and carl stuart. - i'm evan smith, he's the publisher of the federalist, a conservative online magazine, and the host of its popular podcast, the federalist radio hour. he's ben domenech, this is overheard. [montage opener] let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn, or is this about the experience of not having been taught properly? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa... you could say that he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. you know, you saw a problem, and over time, took it on... let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak. are you going to run for president? i think i just got an f from you actually. [upbeat music] ben domenech, welcome. - good to be with you.
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- thank you for being here. - happy to be here. - we spend a lot of time, in the era of donald trump, asking the broad question, "is donald trump good for the media business?" let me be specific and ask you, if donald trump is good for the conservative media business? - you know, he's a challenge for the conservative media business. - why is that? maybe cause he's not a conservative? - that has something to do with it. - right. (laughter) - the reality is that, over the course of the past half century or so, the conservative media business and its flagship, national review magazine founded by william f. buckley, had a particular view of conservatism that they advocated for. a view which actually won. they were originally founded as a magazine that criticized eisenhower, that was very critical at various points of richard nixon, but then saw their fulfillment in ronald reagan. - ronald reagan was the apex, right? - everything that they really wanted to see in a candidate, someone who rejected the kissingerian, nixonian view of the world, who believed that the cold war was something to be won. in the wake of that, you had this zombie reaganism,
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according to a lot of different conservative thinkers, which is basically seeing the world in the same 1980s frame that allowed for fusionism of social conservatism and fiscal conservatism, hawkish foreign policy to dictate the direction for the republican party. a fusionism that really maintained itself all the way through the george w. bush years with islamic terrorism and that force as the substitute for the cold war and the soviets. that fusionism though, was really decaying, and it was something that donald trump exploited, to great degree, because it turned out at the end of the day that the cohort, the coalition of the right was not this buckleyesque, reaganesque free trade, importance of maintaining global power, of supporting our various allies in all sorts of different ways. that that was something that actually was not the animating focus of so many people who made up the republican base. donald trump exploited that to great degree and in part because the republican party deluded themselves
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into thinking that the war, the conflict within their ranks was between moderates, establishment, chamber of commerce republicans, and conservative constitutionalists ideologues- - right, movement types. - ted cruz and the like. ted cruz ran for president believing that conservatives were angry, and what he'd actually discover and what donald trump already knew was that everyone was angry. - yeah, i'm tempted to trot out the old adage that you can't beat somebody with nobody. trump showed up and the conservative movement in the main did not really field an adequate candidate or any candidate to carry the anti-trump banner, but you do point out cruz. the fact is, you can't get more movement-y than ted cruz. it's not that the conservative wing of the republican party or the movement conservatives didn't show up for the game. they just got beat, right? - ideas don't run for president, people do. people have flaws that can be exploited.
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- let's spend a little bit of time. i don't want you to go all al franken on me, but let's talk about cruz' flaws. - well, i think ted cruz is a brilliant individual. he's an extremely smart person. but i also think that he is someone who does not necessarily have the gift for the common touch, the ability to connect- (laughter) - you don't say, you don't think at princeton or harvard, he learned how to be a common person? - there's an anecdote about richard nixon pulling over on the side of the road, running up to a police officer who's lying on the ground after a car wreck that he had been sort of affected by and nixon runs up to him, puts out his hand, shakes his hand and says, "well do you enjoy your job?" richard nixon was someone afflicted by- - empathy deficit. - exactly, an inability to connect with common people. i actually think that ted is a guy who's very smart, and i think that he will probably become someone,
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a figure along the lines of jesse helms in the senate. ultimately, someone who- - you mean that as a compliment? - well, i mean that in terms of someone who will have an out-sized impact on the body. - so i wanna understand trump not as a contrast to cruz or anybody else, but trump in his own way. what is he about really? did we see in the campaign the real trump? did we see a reality show version of the real guy, essentially a hyped up entertainment celebrity masquerading as a real person? i've wondered over the last since whatever it is, june of 2015 when he descended that escalator and talked about mexican rapists. from that day forward, i've wondered who's the real trump? what is the real trump? do you have a sense? - the real trump is a man who is a traitor to his class because he has a chip on his shoulder because he felt that he was never accepted by the new york elite. there's an alternate history that you could actually consider within this realm.
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the easy way to look at it is actually to look at the attempt by donald trump to buy an nfl franchise. he tried very hard to do that. he was rejected by the owners, they have the ability to do that. his response to that was to buy a usfl franchise and then sue the nfl to try to force them to essentially let him in. he won that case but because everyone on the jury thought that he was a very rich man, they awarded him one dollar plus interest in payment. there is an alternate universe in earth two or what have you, evan, where donald trump gets that franchise, is accepted by the broader immediate landscape and new york elite, and never runs for president because he has something else to take away his time. i view trump as someone who is a very canny exploiter of cultural trends. that is what i believe he has done throughout his entire career. i think that he did that in this most recent election. he picked certain things as cultural signifiers to people. he embraced them.
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i think more important than anything else, what he actually did was he changed something significant about the way that politicians relate to the media. if you go back a couple of years ago, i remember this interview that marco rubio gave to buzzfeed. he went into the buzzfeed offices, obviously this is marco rubio post-2012, setting up his, oh i'm the new hip thing. - nascent. - i have opinions about rap, talk to me about that, that sort of thing. i can connect with the children. - i'm the young candidate. yesterday's gone, tomorrow is going, (crosstalk). - exactly, he goes into the buzzfeed offices and within a few questions of the beginning of the interview, they start asking him questions about christianity and creationism and evolution and all these other things. rubio being the polite guy that he is, is sort of trying to be nice about things. they're trying to get him to say things that basically dis his supporters. i remember sending that around to a group of friends and having a comment from someone that said, you know, i wish that his response to this would have been
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yes, i believe in a god who created the world, was born of a virgin, and died for my sins. do you have a problem with that? that's the kind of thing that i think conservatives wanted to see, they want to see the rejection of the premise of the question, that just sort of says, i should feel bad about believing what traditional christians believe about these things. - who prevented the conservative movement from fielding such a candidate in the last election? i seem to remember a guy named rubio, actually, might have been him, but there were a bunch of other people in there. again, you go down the list of the 17 who ran. let's stipulate trump is not a traditional conservative, or maybe even a republican. - yes. - but of the other 16, there are a bunch in there who seem like they could have been that person. - there's a connective thread that runs through the past several elections that i think we didn't fully appreciate. pat buchanan runs for president in '92, he runs for president in '96. you have the surprising success of mike huckabee in 2008. you have the surprising success of rick santorum in 2012.
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what they had all in common was a populist economic message that broke with republican orthodoxy on trade, on a number of other issues related to that, on unions, but what distracted us about them, of course, is that they were all bible-believing christians, catholics, evangelicals. so the questions they got asked on the trail typically turned very quickly to abortion, birth control, all these other sort of cultural issues. but i think what we did was we underestimated the power and the appeal of their protectionist, pro-union, anti-free trade message within this republican (crosstalk). - that was really the gas in the engine. - exactly. - it turns out. - what trump did was basically he embraced that message because it's not really all that different from- - did he do that consciously? i mean honestly, i'm hearing you say this and i'm thinking that's pretty smart. it's pretty canny and pretty savvy in a way that he's not been given adequate credit for. - i will just say, that is probably the thing he's been the most consistent on. if you go back and you read what he was saying in the 1980s, he was still saying that same thing.
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- and of course, who else is carrying that flag and running down the field, steve bannon. - yes. - so steve bannon comes aboard and steve bannon is affirming with his presence and his words and deeds, the same economic nationalism message that trump is himself out there carrying the flag for. it's a match made in heaven. - yeah, i mean, look, i do not agree with this message. i'm as absolutist on free trade as i think you'd find anybody, but i am also of the opinion that the case for free trade has been something that republican politicians have failed to make with their own base for decades. it's one that i think really caught up with them in this election. the truth is, if you look at bannon and if you look at this connective tissue, there are a lot of things he has in common with pat buchanan. it turned out that that thread of populist pro-union, anti-free trade sort of things really had a lot of power. i remember being in cleveland and expecting that there would be all sorts of protests. i was at the convention in 2008
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and got tear gassed along with some of the anti-globalist protestors that were outside of that convention. i expected something along those lines. - but it turns out that the protests against globalism were in the hall. - exactly, that's the thing. what was so notable was the unions weren't there. there was no real powerful (crosstalk). - let me ask you about this idea of globalism. globalism is often viewed as a code word for anti-semitism. so when breitbart writes about economic nationalism- - it puts those little globes. - they put little globes around the name. you know, they write about gary cohn and they write about other people in the administration in a way that causes people, fairly or unfairly, to think that it's a short walk from economic nationalism to globalism to anti-semitism. is that a fair knock? - i don't think it's a fair knock but i also understand why people would see it. i certainly don't know the people who are writing those pieces well enough to tell whether they actually hold those views or not. the fact is, that the revolt against globalism is not unique to america. it's something that we see in brexit.
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it's something that we see in spain right now in the catalonian sort of difficulties. it's something that we've seen in the backlash against the kind of eu project that has led to a significant degree of stability. it's a little impolitic but the fact is that the eu is about allowing germany to run europe without actually fighting a war (crosstalk). - but ben, is it realistic though to expect that in a world that's increasingly global and increasingly inter-connected, where borders are coming down not going up, that we're now going to retreat like an old italian town behind high walls with people atop and boiling oil that they're going to pour on the invading hordes. we're turning into san gimignano (crosstalk). i mean, we're really are. it sounds like what we're doing is going back to a time long ago when the world was a different place and we were a different piece of that puzzle. that's the pushback often against this view. - the most powerful motivation i think in american life is nostalgia. the truth is that nostalgia fools you.
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you forget the fact that you know, even if you had this sort of false sense of stability, when you were a child in the 50s or 60s and there was this trust in great institutions and corporations, et cetera. you forget the fact that your parents had to save money for a year to buy a refrigerator. we live in a time now where you cannot unring that globalist bell. - or honestly, it's fake, i refer to this as a restoration hardware problem. we're all nostalgic for a time that never existed, right. - this is true, but think- - but that fake nostalgia actually is nonetheless fueling these decisions that we make politically. - but think about the experience of someone in america today. we have more working-age males in america who are out of the workforce then at any time since the end of the great depression. more than anything else, gotten onto the disability system as a substitute for unemployment. they are subsisting on essentially $1200 a month, which gives you the ability to self-medicate with either alcohol or opioids or something else.
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you sit on a couch and you watch tv, and this golden-haired man comes on. he tells you it's not your fault that your life sucks. it's not your fault that you're sitting there and you're viewing all these celebrities whose lives you can never aspire to. it's the fault of immigrants, it's the fault of politicians, it's the fault of bad trade deals and wars based on lies. he says, that's okay, i can fix it. i alone can fix it, okay, and you listen. - i want to walk over from economic nationalism to white nationalism, because to the degree that economic nationalism has been a narrative thread of the last nine months, so in a more recent sense has white nationalism been. do you think that the country has suddenly become racist, or that elements of the country have become racist, you know, as the knock, or that it was always there sub rosa, and that donald trump through his actions and words has given license for those who believe things that were not said out loud, to now say them out loud and so we're more aware of it?
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- i think as, first off let me just say, i'm puerto rican and i've written in public for quite some time, and if you are hispanic or you have any hispanic tendencies, then you are very familiar with the racists on the right. so i knew about richard spencer and all these other folks 10 years ago, because that was when they were writing about me and my family and the hispanic employees that i have in ways that were nasty and awful. i think we just frankly pay a lot more attention to it now. i think they were always there. it's just that before we never connected it to a broader movement that was having an impact on the way that we lived, or certainly who was in the white house. i think that instead, now people are saying, well this is of the same, or this is the same piece. the danger of course there, is the fact is that donald trump has more than 60 million people who voted for him. those people are not white supremacists. they are not all white supremacists, they are not all white nationalists. they did not vote for him for that reason. white college-educated women did not vote for him for that reason. the fact is that he won votes from more black americans
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and more hispanic americans than mitt romney did, but he didn't do that because of the appeal of white nationalism. i think the fact is that these people were always there, but now we're connecting them with a broader trend in american society, which is very dangerous, and which i think deserves the kind of criticism that it's getting. but then it's leading us to make the false conclusion that those people are connected with the rest of the president's base in a way that i think unfortunately, smears a lot of americans. - it's a subset, but it's a subset over here. it's not co-mingled with (crosstalk). - it's an extremist subset. i mean, i connected him to pat buchanan and certainly there's a subset of anti-semites who supported pat buchanan. - you remember the old molly ivins line about the buchanan speech in '92, it was better in the original german, remember that? - i do remember that line. i do remember that line, but i would also urge you to go back and watch that speech again. because i would suggest to you that what he is actually sort of saying is something that played out over the next two decades.
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- it was the lead up, the run up to the culture war which was then the run up to this. - yes, and what both he and huckabee to a degree, but santorum certainly, argued through their whole careers was we are on the slippery slope that is going to lead us to a point where america rejects christianity and the founding and our history and views them all as being affected by an original sin of racism and bigotry and all of these other things. that's going to lead people to try to destroy the past, knock down monuments, and rip up the constitution. basically, that's the subset of what they've been arguing. - and like hey. - and they feel vindicated now. they feel vindicated. - on the subject of race, a question very much of the moment, is colin kaepernick is a son of a bitch? - (laughs) no, i think he has a very nice family. - well, you know, mrs. kaepernick objected enormously to the president's characterization. - i will just say- - because everyone's on twitter, she tweeted it. - i actually like colin kaepernick. i paid a lot of attention to him coming out
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because i actually wanted my own home team, the washington r-words, to draft him. but i think that the truth is, when i look at kaepernick, i see a guy who i think has made an error of judgment. the reason is that i think that his expression of protest sends a message that he doesn't intend it to send. i think that he wants to protest because of what he sees as a problem of police action and violence and danger to black americans. - are you sympathetic to that? - i am sympathetic. - you're a criminal justice guy. this is of particular interest, yeah. - i think the truth is that the cops we have, i think try to do a good job but many of them are not trained to the degree they need to be. they certainly do not practice with their weapons to the degree they need to be, and are way too quick to pull i think on a lot of people, that otherwise might survive if they behaved with more of an approach to trying to de-escalate a situation.
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i also think frankly, we have far too many laws. there's too much opportunity for a cop to come in conflict with someone today. i think particularly of the situation in baltimore with freddie gray. i happen to carry a knife typically in my pocket. - well it's good because here in texas now, as of september 1st, you can open-carry knives. just take it out, just put it on the table. - it's in my bag unfortunately because i didn't expect to have this out but i was very upset to learn that frankly, that the type of knife that i carry was very close to the same type of knife that freddie gray carried. he should not have even been arrested for carrying that. it was actually legal for him to carry. but because it was carried- - so you're sympathetic in a general sense to the kaepernick argument that (crosstalk). - the problem is, and i think particularly you can look at martin luther king's speech on this. mlk's speech did not criticize america
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for its founding or for its principles. what it said is, america is great. i would like to be included in that and i have not been to this point. i think that is a much more convincing, and if you look back at most civil rights leaders, the ones who've been most successful, have been the ones who don't say america is a bad place, it's terrible, that you need to feel guilty about it, et cetera, and there's nothing that can be done to really assuage that. instead they say, we want to be fully included in it. i think that's something that kaepernick could have done in a lot of different ways. instead, it reads to so many different nfl fans who don't pay attention to what he says or what he does off the field. they just look at it and say, why does this guy hate my country? - well there is of course this additional question of conservatives being in favor of small government and leaving business alone. the president deciding that because of the offense he's taken at colin kaepernick, saying on twitter and elsewhere, i think that the nfl owners should fire players who take a knee, and who dishonor our flag,
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and i think that this person should be fired. in the same way that a couple weeks ago, we had an espn on-air personality who made comments that were disparaging of the president, in response to comments that he made disparaging of her race, she believed. the press secretary for the white house, sarah huckabee sanders, came out and said, we believe that espn should fire this person. is there a conflict, you're a small government conservative. do you want the president and the white house dictating to private businesses who they can employ? - of course not. - the first amendment gives you the right to be wrong or to be a jackass, doesn't it. - of course it does. i will just say i'm not a big fan of jemele hill, not because of what she said about the president in her view being a white supremacist, but simply that her hour is down 20% in the ratings. that's i think the bigger problem for espn. - in the end, it's all about the ratings. to that point, let me take a short walk over to the president's own ratings. there's a washington post/abc news poll out this very day that has the president at 39% approval, which is the lowest point in 71 years
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for a president at this point in his presidency. and yet. - and yet. - and yet, there's absolutely no sign that the base that elected him is deserting him in droves. there's no sign that the members of congress, particularly of his party, are in any way empowered to thwart him. in fact, if anything, they seem to be cowering. he's making deals with chuck and nancy. - yes, well he likes chuck. they're from the boroughs. - america's fun couple. - he gave chuck money for years. - right, they're from the crappy boroughs, in fact, right. it's even better, and as someone who is from a crappy borough, i can say that. i'm a self-hating crappy borough native. (laughter) no, no, but the point is, i mean really, what's remarkable is the polls are as bad as they are, and everyone's mad at him and up in his grill, and he's just blithely doing his thing. - you know, the funny thing is, evan, and i don't know that this was actually his rating in the washington post/abc poll,
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but his rating in a number of other polls on election day was 39%, in terms of his own approval. - so maybe that's the low end of his base. - so here's the thing that i think is very interesting about this moment. imagine if the russia investigation had not created a toxic environment for donald trump from day one. mitch mcconnell, paul ryan, they come into the white house and they had told him, they know according to multiple reports, they said, you will have a repeal bill by easter, you will have a tax bill by august, and you will have an infrastructure bill by christmas. that's what they said to him. donald trump has no experience in politics, this is new to him he says okay, fine. - he believes it, he's like, great. - he believes it. and then august rolls around, he's got nothing, okay, and he says, i trusted you, i gave you, i said i would sign anything you pass, and you haven't passed it. so now, here's what's going to happen. i'm going to start dealing with the other side. he has the ability to reach to chuck schumer in particular and say, i will give you this in exchange for this. i know there will be enough feckless republicans
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who just come along with me because i am their party, and they still have this illusion that i'm the leader of it. (laughter) to go along with it. here's the very interesting thing that he could do. i wrote a piece back in may saying that trump needed to pivot to working with the democrats in order to forestall an impeachment election, effectively. here's the type- - let me stop you. impeachment election in the sense that if you don't work with democrats, you're going to get nothing done. - yes. - 2018's going to come around, democrats take back the house, and the pre-condition to impeachment is the democrats taking back the house. so you hold off the possibility by virtue of accomplishments that the democrats take it back. - imagine that tomorrow donald trump proposes to the folks on capitol hill, i will pass, i will sign a minimum wage increase in exchange for work requirements for every welfare policy. how do republicans vote against that? - [together] how do democrats vote against that? - i'm thinking how do democrats vote against that.
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- that's the thing, what you end up with is, donald trump, he's basically with democrats on the minimum wage. he said all sorts of things about raising the minimum wage over his career. he is the only republican you could effectively have in that job that would say, sure, 15 bucks. - this gets back, we're just about out of time, this gets back to this idea that he's somehow figured out that the buchanan/santorum/huckabee version of economic nationalism was the right course to pursue. this gives trump a ton of credit. if trump is smart enough to figure this out, then maybe he's smart enough to get re-elected or hold off being removed. - he uses the country's tribalism to his benefit over and over and over again. - it's amazing. - because he has the capability to sort of look at these things and not behave like the polite politician, instead to just wrap his arms around these things. - well, we're done. we're going to wrap our arms around the end of our show. ben domenech, so much fun to talk to you and learn so much, thank you very much. - great to be here. - ben domenech, thank you. (applause) we'd love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at
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to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests, and an archive of past episodes. - i will concede that i'm an emphatic supporter of significant reform to our educational system. i think it's actually the biggest problem that we've had in the united states for the past decade and a half, and perhaps even beyond that. we have not devoted the kind, i actually think that one of the biggest travesties of the bush administration was no child left behind. i think it did not work the way they intended it to work. - [narrator] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by claire and carl stuart.
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a texas government [rockabilly music]cy, (male narrator) memphis, tennessee. it has been written if music were religion, then memphis would be jerusalem and sun studio its most sacred shrine. you are here with j.d. mcpherson! ♪ i've got some good talk ♪ but not enough game ♪ oh, speed up - i'm j.d. mcpherson and i'm from broken arrow, oklahoma. and i play with an outfit mostly kind of rhythm and blues, similar to the 1950s, mostly chicago guys. mr. jimmy sutton on upright bass, jason smay on the drums, ray jacildo on the keys, and doug corcoran on tenor saxophone. in the beginning we were a trio, just to afford to be able to go


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